Chat with Leslie Connor, author of All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

Hey, everyone, happy Newbery day! :) (I know, I know, there are lots of awards, but as a middle grade writer, you can't blame me for getting most excited about the Newbery, right?)

I'm thrilled to bring you another interview today with one of the most talented authors I am privileged to know as a friend as well, the lovely Leslie Connor! Leslie was actually one of the very first winners of the Tassy Walden Award, and I've been blessed to get to know her better through volunteering on the committee with her. And, yes, she's just as wonderful as her books are. :)

Welcome, Leslie, and thank you so much for agreeing to chat with me today!

My pleasure, Faith!

This talk is long overdue, as I've been wanting to discuss your newest book, All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook, since it first came out last March! It was by far one of my favorite books of 2016, and I found its setting, themes, and--especially!--characters interesting, exciting, and heartwarming. That's saying something, perhaps, as a primary setting of the book is a prison, and several of its characters are convicts. Without asking the ever-cliche, "how did you get this idea?" may I ask instead: when you got this idea, how did you have the boldness to go forward with it?

The idea came from an article in the NYT. (I'm going to try to be brief here.) It was a story about a woman who is serving a very long sentence. Her history was one of radicalism, crime and defiance. Eventually, she "saw the light" and has used her time behind bars to earn an advanced degree. She developed a model for inmate health programming and runs the prison nursery. She is highly regarded by staff and inmates. Sadly, she left behind an eleven-month-old daughter at the time of her incarceration. The daughter was raised by her grandparents, who made the most of every opportunity to have the girl visit her mother. That was the child-centered piece for me. How does it feel to be that child who desperately wants to be with that incarcerated parent, and what is it like to try to be an effective parent from behind bars? The story possibilities were huge!

What comes first for you when you're writing: character, setting, or plot? Or a combination?
Usually, it is the sense of place first. But a strong character shows up pretty quickly and begins to want their story told. That puts voice in my ear. Plot is something I have to work harder on.

Besides writing, you're also an amazing artist; how do you balance two different art forms along with all else that life demands of you?
Thank you! I don't give my art as much time as I'd like to. But after a weeks-long revision marathon, I find making art restorative. I'm usually quiet then, and my thinking pathways seem to open; often that's when a new story idea arrives. I think too, art and writing are parallel processes. They serve each other.

I'd love to chat a little about the Tassy Walden Award. Before you entered, what did your writing life look like? How did winning change your career, and how did entering help hone your skills?
My writing life was personally fulfilling; my spirit was healthy because of the work. But publication did become the goal. Simply put: it is hard to get a foot in the door! Entering the Tassy engaged me in a process that mirrors that of traditional publication--and by that I mean meeting a deadline and preparing my manuscript properly. The Tassy offers a two-tier judging process: agent first, then editor. That's rare in writing competitions! Winning brought me the attention of an agent, someone to swing the gate open.

Finally, Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of entering the Tassy, or any other contest, this year?
Sure! Make the most of this! You have already thrown your heart into your work, no doubt. So prepare, submit, and believe! Even if the outcome isn't exactly what you dream of, know that by participating you are creating possibility, increasing your involvement in the writing community. And oh my gosh, good luck, good luck!

What more can I say than that? Except to thank Leslie so much for sharing her experience, wisdom, and heart with us today!

I'll leave you with a place to find Leslie:

...and a link to find out more about the Tassy! (The deadline is February 1!)


  1. I've been a fan of Leslie's since WAITING FOR NORMAL. I still treasure my signed copy of that one. Also loved CRUNCH. But I still need to read this newest one. Nice interview, Faith. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for this post! I'd never heard of Leslie or the Tassy.


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